Above: Library, Harvard Divinity School, 1900
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a08542
DOUGLAS LETELL RIGHTS (SEPTEMBER 11, 1891-DECEMBER 1, 1956)
U.S. Moravian Minister, Scholar, and Hymn Writer
Douglas LeTell Rights, born in Salem (now Winston-Salem), North Carolina, on September 11, 1891, was a minister and a scholar. The saint’s mother was Emma Jones Rights. His father was George Hanes Rights, editor of The Union Republican, a local newspaper. Our saint attended local schools, graduating from Salem Boys School in 1905, at age 14. Eight years later he graduated from the University of North Carolina with an A.B. degree. Two years of study at the Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, ended with graduation in 1915. Then Rights studied for a year at Harvard Divinity School, graduating with a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1916.
Above: Twin City Daily Sentinel, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, October 9, 1916, Page 2
Accessed via newspapers.com
Then his ministerial career began. Rights, ordained in October 16, became the pastor of the First Moravian Church, Greensboro, North Carolina, serving until 1918, when he left to become a chaplain in the United States Army. That service ended the following year, when our saint became the pastor of Trinity Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He remained there until his death (1956). During his tenure church membership increased from about 200 to more than 850.
Above: Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, May 18, 1920, Page 7
Accessed via newspapers.com
Rights married Cecil Leona Burton (1894-1977) on June 15, 1920. The couple had five children. Two sons, Burton, and Henry, became Moravian ministers. Douglas (1922) died in infancy, George (1928-1951) died in the Korean War, and Eleanor (Rights Roller) revised one of her father’s hymn texts in 1991.
Above: Gastonia Gazette, June 28, 1957, Page 8
Accessed via newspapers.com
Our saint had a lifelong interest in Native Americans. Over time his collection of artifacts became quite large and he became an authority on native peoples of North Carolina. Rights also founded and served as the first President of the Archaeological Society of North Carolina (1933-1991), a predecessor of the North Carolina Archaeological Society. His articles and books relative to indigenous peoples included the following:
- Traces of the Indian in Piedmont North Carolina (1924);
- A Voyage Down the Yadkin-Great Peedee River (1929);
- “The Trading Path to the Indians,” in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1931; and
- The American Indian in North Carolina (1947).
Our saint also studied the history of the Moravian Church. Many of his sources were in German, a language he read. Rights, the Archivist of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church in America from 1950 to his death (1956), wrote about Moravian history in the Tar Heel State also:
- The Beginning of Bethabara, in Wachovia, the First Moravian Settlement in North Carolina (1953); and
- The Records of the Moravian Church in North Carolina, Volume VIII: 1823-1837 (1954), as editor.
Rights had varied interests, as his affiliations indicated. In addition to the groups I have named already, he belonged to, among others, the American Legion, the Freemasons, The Wachovia Historical Society, the Boy Scouts of America, and The North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. The Moravian College and Theological Seminary awarded our saint the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1947.
World peace was among our saint’s interests. The former Army chaplain (1918-1919) considered war to be a “dangerous disease.” Rights considered promoting peace via Christianity to be a duty. He proposed a lecture series, whereby world leaders would speak of ways of creating peace, to Harvard University. Our saint made the first contribution to the endowment for the lecture series. The first lectures occurred in 1960.
Rights also wrote hymns. I found two such texts, both under copyright protection as of 2004, in the Moravian Book of Worship (1995). One hymn was “Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay” (1915), an Advent text, originated during World War I, the conflict which informed the references to “our dark night” and the song of the angels who appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. The committee which prepared the Moravian Book of Worship included the text as our saint’s daughter, Eleanor Rights Roller, had altered it in 1991. In 1956 Bessie Whittington Pfohl, wife of Bishop J. Kenneth Pfohl, asked Rights to compose a hymn appropriate for the transition from one year to another. The result was “With Praises and Thanksgiving” (1956). Every year the Pfohls hosted a New Year’s gathering at their home in Winston-Salem. They debuted the new hymn at the 1957 event.
The days are swiftly passing, time is not ours to hold,
Rights wrote in that hymn. On November 15, 1956, the synod of the Southern Province chose him as its next bishop. At the time our saint was recovering from a heart attack. Certainly those who chose him to serve as a bishop expected him to complete the process of recovery. Rights died on December 1, 1956, however, so he never joined the ranks of Moravian bishops. Nevertheless, he left a great legacy.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 15, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF RUTH, ANCESTOR OF KING DAVID
THE FEAST OF SAINT BONAVENTURE, THEOLOGIAN
Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.
Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and make no peace with oppression.
Help us, like your servant Douglas LeTell Rights,
to work for justice among people and nations,
to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ,
our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60